By Dan Bernstein
CBS Chicago Senior Columnist
I braced myself for another onslaught, as has arrived in the past when soccer has found itself at the forefront of national discussion.
It was never enough to enjoy and appreciate what was actually happening, be it a World Cup for either the men or women, whichever flag-draped affair was spawning painted faces and watch-parties, often at odd times on our clock for games half a world away. Every time it had to be something more, a springboard to new, long-deserved status alongside other games in this country.
Momentary attention was instead championed as the herald of revolution, a cause always proven wrong after the noise quieted down and we got back to our usual habits as consumers. Sometimes such miscalculation was expensive, as in the case of the WUSA that launched in the wake of the success of the 1999 women’s team and folded in 2003, and other times just wishfully misplaced.
We call this the “please like my sport” phenomenon, which is the most polite way to refer to a sentiment that can escalate to “now you had better damn like my sport as much as I like my sport,” “acknowledge that my sport is important to validate me personally” or “your sport sucks and so do you.” This occurs when something other than football, baseball or basketball is capturing eyes and ears, and we tolerate it from the rabid fans of soccer, cycling or something otherwise Olympic before getting back to football, baseball and basketball.
This time around, however, as the US women romped to a world title, it never came. And that says something about the gradual, clear success of the sport in this country, the fans’ empowerment and lessened insecurity, and the role new media have in facilitating both.
Attention isn’t restricted like it used to be, by a limited number of outlets making decisions on what to cover and how, with priorities consigning less popular things to Wide World of Sports novelty bits on Saturday afternoons or niche fan-magazines to provide a fix for small segments of an audience. It’s all there, now, with nobody who cares really minding that what they enjoy might be on Fox Sports 8, ESPN 12, or BBC 3. It’s just a number to be punched into a remote, and there it is like anything else, in HD on multiple screens.
Significant communities of fans are given lifeblood via social media, removing the need for outside substantiation by anyone else, be it a local paper, nightly newscast, or sports radio. There is no reason to carp about who else may feel as strongly about something, because any kind of fandom can be self-supporting.
If you live in a large city, you have become accustomed to the crowds in bars for soccer games of all kinds, at any time of day. Be it World Cup, CONCACAF, Premier League, Champions’ League, or some international friendly. It’s not at all exotic anymore to spend a Sunday morning walk dodging throngs of happily besotted folks in Man City or West Brom jerseys, have trouble finding parking near the Globe Pub during a big MLS game for the Chicago Fire, or notice a particularly celebratory throng of Argentines holding up traffic for a bit on Elston Avenue. It’s part of the fabric.
This latest major soccer event for the US could have been yet another opportunity for proselytizers to worry about tub-thumping, trying with such previous desperation to make everyone care as much as they do. But at least from this perspective here, they didn’t.
It’s a good thing, because it means they were too busy actually enjoying the moment, liking their sport themselves, on their own terms.